People who are genetically programmed to be early risers may have a better mental well-being, and are at lower risk of schizophrenia and depression, a study has found. The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, revealed some of the inner workings of the body clock, shedding new light on how it links to mental health and disease.
However, the results did not reveal any strong links to diseases such as diabetes or obesity, dispelling previous speculation. The study, led by the University of Exeter in the UK and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in the US highlights the key role of the retina in the eye in helping the body to keep time. It also increases the number of areas of the genome known to influence whether someone is an early riser from 24 to 351.
“This study highlights a large number of genes which can be studied in more detail to work out how different people can have different body clocks,” said Michael Weedon, of the University of Exeter, who led the research.
“The large number of people in our study means we have provided the strongest evidence to date that ‘night owls’ are at higher risk of mental health problems, such as schizophrenia and lower mental well-being, although further studies are needed to fully understand this link,” said Weedon.
“Our work indicates that part of the reason why some people are up with the lark while others are night owls is because of differences in both the way our brains react to external light signals and the normal functioning of our internal clocks,” said Samuel E Jones, of the University of Exeter.
“These small differences may have potentially significant effects on the ability of our body clocks to keep time effectively, potentially altering risk of both disease and mental health disorders,” Jones, lead author of the study.